It was a leftovers supper. I had a lot of polenta left over from the Fegato alla Veneziana I made a couple of evenings ago. At first I felt quite silly for having completely overestimated how much polenta I needed, but as it turned out it led me towards the simplest but most divinely tasty supper tonight.
Of course, you can start from scratch and prepare the polenta just for this – but remember to start well enough in advance to allow the polenta to cool and go solid (see Fegato recipe for instructions) so that you can then easily cut it into slices to fry. I cook polenta quite a lot as an alternative to pasta or rice, partly because I like it a lot, but also because I eat a lot of pasta which means I eat a lot of wheat. And although I’m not sensitive to it, it sometimes seems like a good idea to bring an alternative into my diet – and polenta is made from corn – maize flour. Usually the polenta I cook is left soft and creamy – a bit like a creamy mash potato – but I always flavour it with plenty of salt and pepper, a good lump of butter and some freshly grated Parmesan. Polenta without flavouring is too bland. I buy instant polenta from Carluccio’s.
It tastes really good and although I make most of my food from scratch (no ready meals), I’m still happy to take shortcuts when I can if I still end up with something authentic.
So, tonight I decided to cut my left-over polenta into slices and fry it, and serve it with a simple sauce made from fresh tomatoes. I had some lovely small vine tomatoes which are full of flavour, so ideal for a simple sauce. I’d also add a shallot, some garlic and fresh basil, which I have growing on my kitchen windowsill.
Fried Polenta with Fresh Tomato, Garlic & Basil Sauce
- cold polenta, made from about 50g polenta, quite thick
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, sliced thinly
- 1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
- 4-5 medium, full-flavour vine tomatoes, chopped into quarters
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a few basil leaves
- Parmesan for grating over at end
Slice the cold polenta ready for frying. Heat about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced shallot. Let that start to cook for a few seconds and then add the sliced garlic (at the end you can either leave it in or easily remove it if you’re worried about smelling of garlic – the flavour will still come through). Cook, stirring, for a minute or two and then add the chopped tomatoes.
Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and collapsing. Season with salt and pepper. Stir. Tear over some fresh basil leaves.
As this is cooking, heat a little (about a tablespoon) olive oil in another small pan. When it’s hot, add the slices of polenta. Cook over a medium heat, turning over when nicely browned on one side, and cook until both sides are a deep golden brown.
I also made a quick simple side salad of rocket with sliced raw fennel, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
When the polenta slices are nicely brown transfer to a serving plate. Then spoon over the tomato sauce.
To finish, grate over a generous shower of Parmesan, then drizzle over a little olive oil.
Now eat and enjoy! This is the simplest of dishes – and all the more Italian for it. But it was truly wonderful. I love the way the texture of the polenta changes when you fry it, becoming fluffier inside with a nice crisp outside (a bit like a perfect chip!). I must cook polenta this way more often; or just get into the habit of cooking extra whenever I’m making the creamy version so I have leftovers. I often make a simple fresh tomato sauce like this for pasta. It’s such an easy but very special thing. Combined with these gorgeous slices of fried polenta, it made a truly gorgeous supper.